g The Film Panel Notetaker: March 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

New Directors/New Films - "Momma's Man" - March 29, 2008

New Directors/New Films
Momma’s Man
Walter Reade Theater – New York, NY
March 29, 2008

On Saturday, Momma’s Man directed by Azazel Jacobs, played at New Directors/New Films, a joint program between the Department of Film at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Momma’s Man tells the story of Mikey, a 30-something man played by Matt Boren who stays with his parents during a business trip in New York City, only to extend his trip to cope from his life back in Los Angeles. Jacobs cast his own parents (Ken and Flo) to play the mother and father, creating a terrifically realistic effect. They are artists who live in the ultimate eccentric Manhattan loft, a claustrophobic environment of knick knacks and doodads that give Mikey a sense of comfort and peace away from his reality. This film will tug at your heartstrings, so be sure to bring a hanky if you have the opportunity to see it. Below are some notes from the Q&A.

Q: What was the process like gathering all of the objects in your parents’ loft?

Azazel: They were the star of the script. The home was the first thing I cast. That’s how the script began. I couldn’t separate the place and my folks. It took a while to build up to ask them to be in it. The idea of other people playing my parents was worse.

Ken: Objects speak to me. They tell stories by emanating where they come from.

Q: How much of the film was improvised?

Azazel: I was trying to write on how I think the characters would respond. The film was also shot in order. It was helpful to build and know where we were going.

Q: How was it like to be directed in the final scene where you’re saying goodbye to Mikey?

Flo: It was the normal thing of when he (Azazel) goes to LA. It’s something that happens all the time.

Ken: He was very deft, very clear. The cameraman worked really quickly.

Q: What did you (Matt) bring into the role of Mikey?

Matt: When we first met, I totally fell in love with them (Ken and Flo). My real life was mirroring my character’s life. I was also staying with my parents.

Q: What criteria did you use to cast Matt?

Azazel: I cast him in my first film. He was someone who could take in a lot of things. I wasn’t going to base the son on me. This person has made a lot of different choices than I have. Part of his journey is to come to appreciate what his parents are doing. Matt was the first person I thought of. And my parents would never name their son Mikey.

Q: Was it difficult to shoot in a small space?

Azazel: We didn’t really have much of a crew. The DP and I decided early on that we wouldn’t move anything in the loft. We would not change the space.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Conversation With Michael Eisner, SXSW, 3/11/08, 11:30am

Featuring: Michael Eisner, CEO, The Tornante Company

Michael Eisner was at SXSW to promote his new venture, Tornante. Eisner believes the time has come for story-oriented content on the Internet. Eisner is hoping to apply the expertise he acquired at ABC, Paramount, and Disney to the Internet. However, Eisner doesn't believe that Internet dramas will displace movies and television. "New content always supplements old content, and expands the audience."

After the formation of Tornante, Eisner set out to find the people who were already creating such content. Among his initial discoveries was an Internet TV series titled Sam Has 7 Friends. Eisner approached the creators, and they had an idea for a new series, titled Prom Queen.

"People in this medium are the new Spielbergs of this generation," Eisner said. "I think people are recognizing that there's something happening here."

Eisner believes that 99% of all Internet content is awful, but that 1% is really good. Of course, he also recognized that many of the 99% believesthey're in the 1%. "Your intention is not to do crap, but you can smell it after the fact."

He also believes that in five years, content on the Internet will be as important as content in movies and in television.

"That's why I'm in content," he says. "Someone's going to want to see it. That's what society is about."

Are there different artistic decisions? Yes and no, says Eisner. "I think the big mistake I made before was believing that there was a difference between movies and television. But I believe that with the right cast, and really emotional content, money can be made."

Q: What are your thoughts on copyrights?

A: I'm conflicted. I always thought what seperated our country from others is patents and copyrights. When I was at Paramount, we discovered that Exxon was pirating Saturday Night Fever and Grease to screen for the workers on ships. We're in Hollywood, and there are people out there trying to make money."

A photograph was taken of Eisner with a Flat Stanley.

Before the panel wrapped, the moderator added: "I think people are eventually going to get screen fatigue. Eventually, I think people will think, it's so nice to read a book for a change."

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Deal or No Deal: The Road to Self-Distribution, SXSW, 3/10/08


Karina Longworth
, Spout.com

Stacy Schoolfield
, Producer, Jumping Off Bridges
Kelly Sanders, Truly Indie
Sara Pollack, Film Manager, YouTube
Mark Halperin, President, Magic Lamp Releasing (absent?)

At the very beginning, moderator Karina Longworth laid out the premise of the panel: looking at self-distribution as the first resort, as opposed to the last resort.

Stacy Schoolfield was the first panelist to speak. After producing the movie Jumping Off Bridges, Schoolfield took the film to SXSW, expecting it to get a distribution deal. There was no initial distribution deal. Instead, what happened was that a mental health field professional saw the film and thought it would be appropriate to screen for her colleagues. Later, she called theaters in 26 cities and combed Lost fansites (Michael Emerson from that show appears in the film) to promote the film. She got the ultimate flattery when fans began to incorporate clips from Bridges into video tributes to Emerson. Eventually, Jumping Off Bridges got picked up by New Day Films, a distribution company specializing in educational films.

Sara Pollack, prior to her hiring at YouTube worked on a film titled Duane Hopwood, which only received a minuscule release despite debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, and having notable names like David Schwimmer and Janeane Garofalo star in it. Pollack believes that filmmakers are becoming wise to bad deals given by major distributors, and to the virtues of self-distribution. "You know your audience best," Pollack said.

Kelly Sanders works for Truly Indie, an offshoot of Magnolia Pictures. Truly Indie, like IFC First Take, is an outlet for brokered self-distribution. Whereas Magnolia would approach the filmmaker, it is the other way around with Truly Indie. Truly Indie only accepts 8-10 pictures a year, and if the filmmaker has a promotion idea, Truly Indie will work with the filmmaker. The filmmaker must pay Truly Indie a flat fee based on the cost of the opening.

Sanders believes that theatrical releases are still important, as they bring credibility to the film. Documentaries are usually the most successful in self-distribution, as people tend to read documentary reviews.

Overall, the panel was very encouraging. I got to introduce myself to Karina afterwards, explaining that I was the girl from "HOWL (For Lindsay Lohan)". Yippee!

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New Directors/New Films - "Frozen River" - March 26, 2008

New Directors/New Films
Frozen River
MoMA – New York, NY
March 26, 2008

Frozen River Director/Writer Courtney Hunt and Actress Melissa Leo

At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City Wednesday night, the Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize-Winning Frozen River opened the New Directors/New Films series, a joint program between the Department of Film at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Frozen River is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Courtney Hunt. The film stars the sure-to-be remembered at Academy-voting time actress Melissa Leo (21 Grams) who portrays the ultimate desperate housewife who after her gambling addicted husband leaves her and her two children, goes to desperate measures to pay the bills for her family by helping a Mohawk Native American woman smuggle illegal immigrants from Canada into the U.S. via a frozen river on the border of an upstate New York town.

Hunt and Leo were on hand after the screening for a Q&A with the audience. The Film Society’s Rich Peña kicked off the discussion.

Peña: How did you make the transition from the film starting off as a short into a feature?

Hunt: I had an idea a long time ago of women smugglers. I knew this went on at the border. Back then it was cigarette smuggling, but no one was interested in that for a film. I put the idea aside and had a baby. I later made the short. It was accepted into the New York Film Festival, which was shocking. I took that lift and developed it into a feature.

Q: How long did it take to complete the feature?

Hunt: Since making the short, it probably took about three years just to get financed.

Peña: How did you get involved with the film?

Leo: At a 21 Grams after party, I met Courtney who came up to me and asked if I wanted to do a short. I’d say it was about three years after making the short that I asked Courtney, when are we making the feature? The experience of making the short was a vital tool to making the feature by learning what the conditions would be to work in. We were very well prepared for it.

Q: Did you have a relationship with the Mohawk Nation?

Hunt: I found Misty Upham (who plays Lila) through a Native American actors website. She is not Mohawk. The short was shot on a reservation. We had a lot of support there. The feature was shot in Plattsburgh, NY. My producer Heather Rae also made contact with a reservation and cast actors there.

Q: Is there any underlying message in the film that crime pays?

Leo: What she (my character) wants is more than she can bare and has to step down a notch to get it.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Full Frame Announces Panel & Workshop Line-up for 11th Annual Festival

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival announced today a fantastic line-up of film panel discussions and workshops for the 11th annual festivities taking place April 3-6 in Durham, NC.

And the line-up includes:

Crisis Fatigue: Outreach on the Iraq
Friday, April 4, 1:30 p.m., Durham Arts Council – PSI Theater
Sponsored by The Fledgling Fund.
In a time when many critics have complained that audiences are tired of seeing films about the war in Iraq, how can outreach campaigns keep this vital issue relevant to a media-saturated public?

The panel will be moderated by Diana Barrett, president of The Fledgling Fund. Panelists include directors Meg McLagan, “Lioness;” Jesse Moss, “Full Battle Rattle;” Daria Sommers, “Lioness;” Michael Tucker, “Bulletproof Salesman;” Robert West, co-founder and executive director for Working Films; and others.

Digital to Film: Alpha Cine Demo
Saturday, April 5, 1 p.m., Carolina Theatre – Cinema Two
Hosted by Alpha Cine Labs, Seattle.
Join Alpha Cine for a 35mm presentation and question-and-answer session with their technical experts. Review sample clips transferred to 35mm from a variety of sources, including mini-DV 24p, HDV, HD 720p and 1080p, and S16mm. The session is a great opportunity to watch, learn and ask questions about the process no matter what project phase is being worked on. Film clips include: “Taxi to the Dark Side,” “The Blood of Yingzhou District,” “Iraq in Fragments,” “Frozen River,” “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience,” “Be Here to Love Me” and “The Unforseen.”

“Migrations” Panel
Saturday, April 5, 11 a.m., Durham Arts Center – PSI Theater
An extension of this year’s curated series, this panel provides a forum for conversation about migration as a historical constant and the artist’s role in documenting its significance. The program will include a screening of Alex Rivera’s short film series, “The Borders Trilogy.”

The panel will be moderated by Pedro Lasch, visual artist and assistant professor of the practice in the Visual Arts & Latino/a Studies Community Liaison for Duke University. Panelists include directors Steve James, “The New Americans;” Thavisouk Phrasavath, “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon);” Lourdes Portillo, curator, “Migrations;” Gordon Quinn, “The New Americans;” Alex Rivera, “Sleep Dealer,” “The Sixth Section;” Gita Saedi, “The New Americans;” and Renee Tajima-Peña, “Calavera Highway,” “The New Americans.”

State of the Doc
Saturday, April 5, 1:30 p.m., Durham Arts Center – PSI Theater
Industry leaders come together to discuss the current state of the documentary film business. With high-profile documentaries underperforming at the box office and market concerns growing, how can the commercial viability of non-fiction filmmaking be measured and where does the industry go from here?

The panel will be moderated by Liz Ogilvie, head programmer for Docurama/New Video. Panelists include Nancy Abraham, vice president of original programming, documentaries, for HBO Documentary Films; Christopher Black, senior manager of original programming for Starz Entertainment; David Laub, acquisitions manager for THINKFilm; Tom Quinn, head of acquisitions for Magnolia Pictures; Molly Thompson, director of programming for A&E IndieFilms; and others.

Video Op-Ed – A Brainstorming Session with The New York Times
Friday, April 4, 11 a.m., Durham Arts Center – PSI Theater
Can’t documentary filmmakers create video op-eds just as non-fiction authors contribute to newspapers in opinion pieces? Filmmakers and journalists explore the possibilities in this brainstorming session.

Panelists include Ann Derry, editorial director of video and television for The New York Times; Stefan Forbes, “Boogie Man;” Laura Poitras, “Flag Wars, My Country, My Country;” and David Shipley, deputy editorial page editor and op-ed editor for The New York Times.

Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant
Saturday, April 5, 11:15 a.m., Carolina Theatre – Cinema Two
Only 37 at the time of his death, Garrett Scott made a distinctive mark in the documentary genre during his brief career. Without any formal training in film, he directed “Cul De Sac: A Suburban War Story” and went on to make “Occupation: Dreamland,” co-directed by Ian Olds.

Created by family, friends and colleagues, this grant recognizes first-time filmmakers who, like Garrett, bring a unique vision to the content and style of documentary films. The recipients are selected based on their works-in-progress and are provided with travel and accommodations at the Festival.

The 2008 Garrett Scott Development Grant was awarded to Rebecca Richman Cohen for ‘War Don Don,” Mai Iskander for “Garbage Dreams,” and Nathan Fisher for “The Party After the War.” Ian Olds will join the grant recipients for a presentation of ten-minute excerpts from their works-in-progress.

“War Don Don,” Rebecca Richman Cohen
“War Don Don” follows Issa Sesay, a Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel commander in Sierra Leone, as he stands trial for crimes against humanity. The film interweaves the story of Sesay’s rise to power with a multifaceted account of a man whom some condemn as a war criminal and others praise for persuading the RUF to disarm

“Garbage Dreams,” Mai Iskander
Known as Zaballeen, or “garbage people,” a group of waste collectors in Egypt earn their living by recycling 90 percent of the trash they collect in the streets of Cairo. The film follows the community as multinational corporations hired by the Egyptian government threaten to usurp their painstaking livelihood.

“The Party After the War,” Nathan Fisher
In the largest exodus in six decades, at least five million Iraqis – 20 percent of Iraq’s pre-war population – have fled their homes since the United States and its allies invaded the country in 2003. The film chronicles the lives of several Iraqi refugees from a variety of ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds who now live in Syria and Jordan.

Sunday, April 6, 3:45 p.m., Durham Arts Center – PSI Theater
The Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) is proud to present In-the-Works at Full Frame this year. This program provides audiences with a unique opportunity to screen documentaries in different stages of production and to participate in the critique process. It also gives North Carolina filmmakers the opportunity to receive feedback from a dedicated assembly of their peers and serious documentary enthusiasts.

In-the-Works will be facilitated by filmmaker Bill Siegel, “The Weather Underground.”

“FBI/KKK,” Michael Frierson
“FBI/KKK” is an intimate, 77-minute documentary about Dargan Frierson, an FBI agent in Greensboro, N.C., and his dealings with George Franklin Dorsett, the Grand Kludd, or chaplain, of the United Klans of America. In the 1960s, Dorsett became one of the highest-ranking paid informants who secretly provided information about Klan activities under the FBI’s COINTELPRO-White Hate program. Directed by Frierson’s son Michael, the film explores how Frierson’s career in the FBI during the turbulent 1960s forced him to come to grips with his racist attitudes and also uncovers the filmmaker’s own complicity in a legacy of familial racism.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An Introduction to Sony's New XDCAM EX Camera System- The Little Camera That Will @ SXSW, 3/10/08, 11am.

Mike DesRoches
, Sony Electronics Sales Support Engineer

Lately I've been in the market to get a prosumer camera for my YouTube work, and possibly, depending on the model and the affordability, make my next movie as well. I had a chance to view this camera at SXSW's trade show the day before:

DesRoches started the panel asking for a show of hands: How many of us owned a prosumer camera, and how many of us were interested in buying one. I raised my hand at the latter. He encouraged the audience to look around and find the camera that's right for them. My main issue is that DesRoches spoke at a rapid fire pace that was sometimes too fast for me to keep up while I was taking notes.

The Sony XDCAM EX is a small (for a prosumer camera) that has many benefits that a larger camera has. It's capable of a full HD frame with a pixel ratio of 1920 x 1080, and also a smaller pixel ratio of 1080 x 720. It stores video footage in an MPEG-2 Format with up to 140 minutes on a 2x16 GB Card.

The user is able to set the frame rate of 24P, expanded focus, and the option to over or undercrank. And those interested in stop motion claymation would be relieved to know that now you can finally create your homage to the Rankin-Bass cartoons that play every hoilday season. The camera has a capability of shooting at 2, 6, & 12 frames per second. The XDCAM EX also comes with an auto focus assist.

DesRoches then showed a demonstration of footage made with the XDCAM EX at the trade show, of a toy carousel rotating.

The camera comes with a battery charger, cables, firewire, operating instructions, a wireless remote and shoulder strap. If it's shipped within the United States, it comes with a free memory card. In DesRoches' personal opinion, it's the best camera you can find under $22K.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

IFFBoston Announces Film & Panel Line-Up

The Independent Film Festival of Boston (IFFBoston) last week announced its program line-up including film screenings and panel discussions for the 2008 festivities taking place April 23-29. Here's a look at what's planned for the panels:

Collaborative Screenwriting Presented by Zhura.com
A discussion with screenwriters and other industry professionals on the benefits of collaboration featuring Amy Fox (Heights) and Will Conroy (Transsiberian)

Distribution 2.0
A discussion with some of the companies on the cutting edge of film distribution featuring representatives of Spout.com, Current.com, Indiepix, and Ourstage. Moderated by Amy Dotson of the Independent Feature Project (IFP).

Comics to Film/ Film to Comics
A presentation by “Robot Stories” writer/director and writer of the hit comics The X-Men and World War Hulk, Greg Pak.

And here's the film line-up:


Narrative Features
AUGUST EVENING, directed by Chris Eska
BALLAST, directed by Lance Hammer
BEAVER TRILOGY, directed by Trent Harris (Buried Treasure screening)
BIG MAN JAPAN, directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto
BLOOD CAR, directed by Alex Orr
THE CAKE EATERS, directed by Mary Stuart Masterson
FLASH POINT, directed by Wilson Yip
FROWNLAND, directed by Ronnie Bronstein
GOLIATH, directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner
JETSAM, directed by Simon Welsford
MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, directed by Barry Jenkins
MISTER LONELY, directed by Harmony Korine
MOMMA’S MAN, directed by Azazel Jacobs
MONGOL, directed by Sergei Bodrov
MY EFFORTLESS BRILLIANCE, directed by Lynn Shelton
MY WINNIPEG, directed by Guy Maddin
NATURAL CAUSES, directed by Alex Cannon, Paul Cannon, and Michael Lerman
THE NEW YEAR PARADE, directed by Tom Quinn
PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND, directed by Daniel Barnz
PING PONG PLAYA, directed by Jessica Yu
PINK, directed by Alexander Voulgaris
SAVAGE GRACE, directed by Tom Kalin
STUCK, directed by Stuart Gordon
TIME CRIMES, directed by Nacho Vigalondo
THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS, directed by Bruce McDonald
TRANSSIBERIAN, directed by Brad Anderson (Opening Night Film)
TRIANGLE, directed by Ringo Lam, Johnnie To, and Tsui Hark
TURN THE RIVER, directed by Chris Eigeman
TWELVE, directed by Scott Masterson, Seanbaker Carter, Andy McCarthy, Garth Donovan, Luke Poling, Noah Lydiard, Megan Summers, Brynmore Williams, Joan Meister, Marc Colucci, Jared Goodman, and Vladmir Minuty
VEXILLE, directed by Fumihiko Sori
WOODPECKER, directed by Alex Karpovsky
Documentary Features
AMERICAN TEEN, directed by Nanette Burnstein
AT THE DEATH HOUSE DOOR, directed by Steve James and Peter Gilbert
CRAWFORD, directed by David Modigliani
DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH, directed by Erik Nelson
ELEVEN MINUTES, directed by Michael Selditch
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, directed by Werner Herzog (Closing Night Film)
FRONTRUNNER, directed by Virginia Williams
THE GREENING OF SOUTHIE, directed by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis
INTIMIDAD, directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin
JOY DIVISION, directed by Grant Gee
JUMP!, directed by Helen Hood Scheer
LIFE. SUPPORT. MUSIC., directed by Eric Metzgar
THE LINGUISTS, directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger
LIONESS, directed Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers
MEADOWLARK, directed by Taylor Greeson
NERDCORE RISING, directed by Negin Farsad
PUBLIC ENEMY: WELCOME TO THE TERRORDOME, directed by Robert Patton-Spruill
SAVIOURS, directed by Ross Whitaker and Liam Nolan
SECOND SKIN, directed by Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza
SECRECY, directed by Robb Moss and Peter Galison
SEX POSITIVE, directed by Daryl Wein
SONG SUNG BLUE, directed by Greg Kohs
VERY YOUNG GIRLS, directed by David Schisgall
WE ARE WIZARDS, directed by Josh Koury
WILD BLUE YONDER, directed by Celia Maysles
Short Films
APOCALYPSE OZ, directed by Ewan Telford
AQUARIUM, directed by Rob Meyer
A CATALOG OF MY ANTICIPATIONS, directed by David Lowery
CHIEF, directed by Brett Wagner
DOXOLOGY, directed by Michael Langan
THE DRIFT, directed by Kelly Sears
THE EUROPEAN KID, directed by Ian Martin
THE EXECUTION OF SOLOMON HARRIS, directed by Wyatt Garfield and Ed Yonaitis
FILM MAKES US HAPPY, directed by Bryan Wizemann
GLORY AT SEA, directed by Ben Zeitlin
HEARTBEATS, directed by Vincent Coen
IF A BODY MEET A BODY, directed by Brian Davis
I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE, directed by Cam Christiansen
I LOVE SARAH JANE, directed by Spencer Susser
JACKSON WARD, directed by Matt Petock
KIDS + MONEY, directed by Lauren Greenfield
LA CORONA, directed by Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
LARRY (THE ACTOR), directed by Brett Portanova and Eric Poydar
MAN, directed by Myna Joseph
MAYBE IN THE SPRINGTIME, directed by Mai Sato
MR.P, directed by Jake Vaughan
PEPPER, directed by Harry McCoy
PRIMITIVE TECHNOLOGY, directed by Bo Price
THE PULL, directed by Andy Blubaugh
THE RAMBLER, directed by Calvin Reeder
REORDER, directed by Sean Garrity
SAFARI, directed by Catherine Chalmers
SANGIT SENYOR, directed by Alan Lyddiard
SAVE THE WORLD, directed by David Casals-Roma
SIKUMI (ON THE ICE), directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
SPIDER, directed by Nash Edgerton
34x24x36, directed by Jesse Epstein
TONY ZOREIL, directed by Valentin Potier
WELL-FOUNDED CONCERNS, directed by Tim Cawley
WOMAN IN BURKA, directed by Jonathan Lisecki


Saturday, March 22, 2008

GenArt Film Festival Panels Planned

GenArt Film Festival is back again April 2-8 in New York City. In all, seven features and seven shorts will be shown. And on Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6, two panel discussions are planned.

Saturday April 5th, 5pm
Join the filmmakers of Surfwise and other panelists for a discussion about the intersection between life and cinema. There are a few real life characters that have pushed the boundaries of what it means to live life to its fullest and have captured their lives through cinema as Doc Paskowitz does in Surfwise. How do filmmakers choose their subjects (both documentary and narrative) and why do audiences value the capturing of life’s adventures on film and living vicariously through movies. The movie going experience has become such an integral part of our culture - what impact does movies have on our lives and society? And why is it that this art form seems to transcend most others in ability to move those who consume it.

Sunday April 6th, 5pm
An intimate discussion with the filmmakers and actors behind Half-Life and Frost on the cinematic journey from concept to creation and finished product to festival premiere.What does it take to get a film on screen in today’s entertainment climate? And what are the key moments or epiphanies that advance a project forward? It takes more than equipment, money and relationships to get a movie made and make a name for oneself in this business – it requires a certain chutzpah, drive and possession. Come learn how these filmmakers and actors have overcome challenges on the road to seeing their dreams come to life and where they are heading next.

And here's a video from one of last year's panel, Media Ecology, where I took notes. FYI, this panel made it to # 5 on my top 10 panels of 2007. And here's the official GenArt video from that panel:

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Actors' Workshop With Jeffrey Tambor, SXSW Film Festival, 3/9/08

Featured Speaker: Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development, The Larry Sanders Show

Greta Gerwig
, Actress/Writer, Hannah Takes The Stairs, Nights & Weekends

Kent Osbourne, Actor/Writer, Hannah Takes The Stairs, Nights & Weekends, Spongebob Squarepants

I'm a fan of the TV Show Arrested Development, but I really didn't have much interest in attending this panel until I discovered that Tambor would be working with Greta Gerwig and Kent Osbourne.

The panel started off with Tambor asking Kent and Greta about their insecurities as actors. Kent replied, "I'm afraid of forgetting a line." Gerwig and Osbourne played out a scene from a play by John Patrick Shanley. Once the two were done, Tambor asked Greta how her character felt about her friend, Kent's character. In first person, Greta replied: "I love him, and I hate him."

Casually, he asked Greta, "Have you ever been in love?"
"Yes!" She replied.

Greta Gerwig and Kent Osbourne in Jeffrey Tambor's Acting Workshop

Tambor advised the actors in the audience that they should rehearse as the camera is being set up, and also to write arbitraries in the margins of your script. Tambor also suggested that instead of the actor try to act well, they should aim to act badly.

"People are Ridiculous!"

Gradually, Kent and Greta became less inhibited, to the point where they were chasing each other around the room. As Tambor gave the two more suggestions, Greta and Kent experimented with their parts.

Tambor also had advice for budding directors, telling them to follow the actors to craft services, get under their skin, and be personal with their subjects.

"The more personal you are, the more personal they are."

Toward the end of the program, Tambor asked Kent and Greta if they learned anything from the workshop. Greta realized that she was a better actress than she thought she was. Tambor also took questions from the audience. Here are a couple of these questions.

Q: Do you like watching dailies?
A: No, I don't like watching dailies.

Q: What is the greatest betrayal?
A: Piss on them, I don't know. I don't think you want to hurt someone. The more you live, the more people hurt you.

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Go "To The Hills" On Easter Sunday with Fritz Donnelly

At SXSW a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet and hang with Brooklyn-based filmmaker Fritz Donnelly. Fritz gave me a copy of his latest DVD, To The Hills 2, a collection 25 of his short films including Financial Advice, Real Estate, Milk Industry and my personal favorite, Awkward Social Situations. Fritz will be on hand this Sunday at 8pm at Glasslands in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he’ll be hosting Easter Island Sunday, an evening of short films from the likes of himself and others including Elle Burchill, Ben Coonley, Arin Crumley, Susan Buice, Myles Kane, Jason Talon and three spontaneous submissions. Be sure to stop by for all the festivities. In the mean time, please enjoy my interview with Fritz below.

Fritz Donnelly

TFPN: Tell me a little about your screening series.

Fritz: I'm doing a series of events at the Glasslands, which is a music, art and wild party venue in Williamsburg that's been around for about a year. I think the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs did a video there kind of early on and the whole independent music scene of a certain tier has performed there. It was started by Brooke Baxterand Rolyn Hu, two women who I've worked in the past on my movies. Every month, I do something there like an open mic/performance night or a film nite. At the last performance was a guy who lectured about chocolate and then gave out free raw chocolate samples. I rapped in Chinese, there was a beat box guy, some song singing, and a modern dancer, and a couple of people read poems and fiction. I also do To The Hills Movie Nights showing local filmmakers work. I usually use the screenings as a deadline to make work. And actually, I'll show anybody's work. There's people who regularly make work for this screening like Ben Coonley and Elle Burchill, and some people who just come in at the last minute with spontaneous submissions. It's an inclusive forum. We're trying to build a little community of filmmakers.

TFPN: What is the meaning behind your To The Hills short films?

Fritz: We live in the city and we're influenced by the variety and the strangeness that we see everyday; To The Hills is about that. You come to New York or you grow up here and you're inherently ambitious; you ask, how can I succeed in this metropolis? That is the environment you put yourself in, but sometimes you just need to get out of that because you lose track of yourself or because if you come out if it and you come back, it's going to be so fresh. To The Hills is that impulse to go off to the hills, either so that you can come back fresh or so you can imagine something different or because that's the space where your ideas can run amuck. You're born into the world and it's already all set up, but you kind of want to mess with it. It's that impulse: to mess with the world that's already presented for you.

TFPN: How would you describe your films? Would you classify them as experimental?

Fritz: I think they've been described in so many ways. I showed them to Tom Schumacher, The President of Disney's Theatrical Division. He said he was into them because they showed different systems for living your life. You know, these are movies about stealing your roommate's milk , calling your lover by the wrong name, and overly long eye contact (Awkward Social Situations). A bunch of Berkeley Freudians and neuroscientists saw my Yoga-Dance film in the Hi/Lo Film Festival and they asked me, are you making fun of yoga or are you really into yoga? You're being ridiculous with yoga but you seem into it. So there's that tension, how much is something being made fun of and how much is it being celebrated? A ridiculous looking person is also a fantastic looking person. A ridiculous way of dressing is also flamboyant and wonderful. So a lot of these films have that tension where there's fun in it, but also this way that it's very sincere. I don't think any of it is that experimental, but I treat the whole filmmaking process as one where I'm very conscious of what the conventions are, and then I know whether or not I need them. Like shot, reverse shot, when people are having a conversation. I think that's a really weird and arbitrary convention. Why would you see a conversation from both perspectives? I mean, it's exciting to see both of their faces, but it's really voyeuristic. I feel like a lot of the cinematic conventions are voyeuristic. That's not my interest in watching a movie, to be the person who's looking in. My interest is more to be the person who's participating. I try to shoot my movies in a way where the camera is the participant and gives the viewer a chance to participate and not be an omniscient eye that sees everything. Borrowing from literature, you could call it first-person filmmaking. My films tend to skew toward using experimental techniques, but I feel like the result is not experimental.

TFPN: Are you trying to make any statements with your films?

Fritz: What I like in film is when you put a lot of it together in your head. I feel like the film is what happens between the person and the thing on the screen. So I'm not trying to say anything directly, but I am trying to evoke the part of a person that they're shy about, but that they really like about themselves. I feel, based on the responses I've gotten from people, that some of the films are effective in doing that. For example, Financial Advice, the film that was licensed by IFC and that's at the very beginning of the DVD (To The Hills 2). The guy has no money, but he's giving you financial advice. He's not even capable of keeping track of his life, it seems like, but somehow he's compelling anyway. I've actually had people follow his advice. He's not really giving you advice like, you should do this, but they sort of followed the spirit. Somebody calls me up and says I quit my job and my boss offered me more money, just like you said. And then I've had a lot of people who wanted to make their own stuff based on seeing my movies. Really, it's just me and a camera in a lot of them. I think that's inspiring to other people--that you can do something simple and it can be compelling without using teams of 100 people and massive budgets.

TFPN: What inspired you to make films?

Fritz: That's interesting because I make films, but I also write. I wrote a novel, and almost two, one and a half now: an absurdest how-to memoir, How to Live the Good Life and a hipster murder mystery with astrological themes, Mercury Retrograde. I had a radio show for a while, Shake Your Head, and To The Hills started as a TV show on public access in Manhattan. So I've done different things, not just making movies. I have an interactive video project showing in the New Museum in a couple of months, it's online at http://www.vidopedia.com/. If I feel like I have a message, I write it. I find that film is more evocative. I think creating environments can also be really evocative, but film is demanding because you're asking for time of a person's life. I think of architecture in relation to film. Time and space. Building an environment is demanding because you're asking people to go somewhere and move their bodies through your thing. And I actually think architecture is all about getting people to move their bodies in a certain space in a certain way. I'm trying to not to be too demanding of people, but to offer a lot in exchange for what they give me. Films seem to me like the most efficient format for that.

TFPN: Are there any filmmakers or other people who inspired you?

Fritz: I read a lot of fiction, and a lot of my movies are I think inspired in a general way from people such as Dostoevsky and Borges. Lately I've been editing like Murikami and James Joyce, in the sense of how they return to certain metaphors and images to structure their stories. It's not montage and it's not mash-up, let's call it morphic resonance, to borrow a term from the experimental biologist Rupret Sheldrake. There's a couple of early films of William Wegman's that I really like. He's an artist. You probably know his photographs of dogs. He's got these early videos where it's just him talking to the camera and telling you stories. They're hilarious and amazing. You picture so much going on, even though you don't actually see so much. I had already been doing my thing, but then I saw his work and thought it was related. I guess the same thing happened to me with Borat and Ali G. I saw those after I was already in the middle of doing my foreign characters (How Drive the Car and Instructor and my POZitive character (Live N Maintain). I like the way Sacha Baron Cohen throws himself into the people. The joke is not on the people, it's more on these conventions and these ways that we have of acting that we think make a lot of sense, but in the end are so ridiculous, even reprehensible; he's so good at showing that. I feel like my movies are also about that. They're probably a lot less confrontational. Those are some people who have really inspired me, not really to start, but kind of just along the way like you're running the marathon and somebody gives you a cup of water as you're going.

TFPN: Can you talk about the technical choices you made with some of your videos, such as the Awkward Social Situations one where you played around with the sound?

Fritz: Some of those are me doing a voiceover. So I'll shoot it and then I'll re-do the voice because I wanted the voice to have a different quality. Or I layer the voice twice. I put one out of sync a little bit. It's not actually backwards or anything. In my very first film I ever made, Blue Lobster, there's almost no sync sound in the whole thing, but there is a lot of dialogue. I used a lot of different ways of syncing sound and image so there was syncing going on, but it wasn't lip-syncing.

TFPN: Have you ever been involved panel discussions?

Fritz: During SXSW, I was involved with the roundtable discussions for From Here To Awesome. Brian Chirls, Arin Crumley and Lance Weiler gave an introduction of what it's all about and then they opened it up. (From Here to Awesome is a tool for filmmakers to find their audience online, I'm a filmmaker they've asked to submit to it, the poster child along with Susan Buice, Isis Masoud, Karl Jacob and M dot Strange. I think the conversation gets deeper, faster when there are more participants because people want to get to the heart of the matter. I think panel discussions can be very political--people are self-conscious and a lot of time is spent floating around stuff, whereas when you put everyone on stage I feel like it opens up immediately, you get some angry or extreme questions to get things moving. I think there's a way people try to talk really safe as well, when they're put in a position of authority. The From Here To Awesome discussion was amazing. I think we covered basically everything in this conversation. It ended up going through paradoxes like, how can people make money off of their movies while giving them away to everyone for free. Filmmakers like Lance Weiler and M dot Strange both have done that. We talked about how the audience is involved in the creation process and a Canadian filmmaker discussed how his documentary about copyright includes at least six scenes that were re-edited or created entirely (in the case of an animation) by fans and are in his final film. Arin Crumley talked about licensing plans where the license adheres to the project--so you put one of your movies out there and if people want to distribute it in a small way they pay you a small amount of money, if a major distributor wants to take it to the moon then you'll get a lot more--and this would be automated. We talked about ways to simplify the monetary structure, and a lot of really practical ideas that were futuristic. This whole discussion is online, I'll put a link to it on my website. As for my personal panel experience, Mr. Film Panel Notetaker, I've spoken at NYU on film regularly. For example, I was an expert on Chinese film for Professor Richard Brown. I worked with a bunch of Chinese filmmakers when I was starting out and I speak Chinese, those are my credentials for that. I've done a lot of speaking, and lead lots of discussions, but not that many panels.

TFPN: If you were to be on a panel, what are some ideas or topics you would like to talk about?

Fritz: Anything having to do with love and how to live your life. To me, those are really related. Maybe that's seems like it's coming out of the blue, but it involves communication and art. Another area is how to do things, how to actually do them, like how to make a movie or make art. And another would be timeless writing. And then maybe the fourth thing would be nomadic lifestyle/workstyle. So basically how to keep moving in terms of a project and not feel like you have to attach yourself to resources, but being able to find the resources when you need them and then let them go when you don't need them. I think all four topics relate to filmmaking. But wouldn't you rather know how to have a perfect relationship?

Support Fritz Donnelly

Buy To The Hills: Includes films like HOW DRIVE THE CAR and INSTRUCTOR - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002DGTGO/

Buy To The Hills 2: Includes films like AWKWARD SOCIAL SITUATIONS and FINANCIAL ADVICE - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EZKZTW/

Email: fritz(at)tothehills(dot)com


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cinema Eye Honors Roundtable Discussion - March 18, 2008

Last night I attended the inaugural Cinema Eye Honors where awards were handed out for outstanding achievement in nonfiction filmmaking. You can find the complete list of winners here. To my surprise and delight, halfway through the ceremony, co-chair Thom Powers gathered to the stage four directors whose films were nominated for awards that night—Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside), Esther B. Robinson (A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory), Jason Kohn (Manda Bala) and Pernille Rose Grønkjær (The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun) for a roundtable discussion. The one problem I had was that the theater was dark, and I couldn’t really see what I was writing even with the help of my cell phone light, and then when I got home, my hand writing was worse then ever, so I was only able to include below the notes that I was actually able to decipher, but they are very good statements from the four directors. (Note to self—Next year, bring the special Indiepix light pen with me.)

(L to R) Alex Gibney, Esther B. Robinson, Thom Powers, Jason Kohn & Pernille Rose Grønkjær. Photo courtesy of Indiepix.

Powers: You spent years giving money to documentaries as a foundation chick. What’s the transition been like becoming a filmmaker?

Robinson: The arts system doesn’t really have any support in America. There’s an incredible community of filmmakers who have made films like mine. All these films exist on resources of low funding.

Powers: You’ve done well taking on dry subjects like Enron and bringing them to visual life.

Gibney: At the end of the day, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is not about accounting and Taxi to the Darkside is not about interrogation. They’re about people. I’m following the trail of the narrative of the story.

Powers: You spent a lot of time making The Monastery and condensing time. What made you think this was worth a film?

Grønkjær: I was the only one. There was something in my stomach. I wanted to film him (Mr. Vig) more and more. Every time I saw him, I kind of fell in love. It was so magical to be with this guy. This was a fairy tale story. The whole visual side of this man’s universe kept me coming back.

Powers: You worked with Errol Morris before. What was it like working under another director?

Kohn: He was more than my old boss. It was nothing like what you’d imagine.

Powers: Can you reflect on where documentaries are today?

Gibney: There are no rules anymore. You’re not constrained by one kind of mysterious rulebook. There’s a sense of discovery even as you’re observing the world outside.

Robinson: There’s an extraordinary wealth of beauty and surprise. Cinema magic. There are so many producers and directors on the verge of giving up. Producers right now are really taking a hit. How do we support people making them happen?

Grønkjær: So many good documentaries are coming out of Denmark. We have a good support system. I had a discussion with my friend about telling stories. I see myself as a storyteller and not a documentary filmmaker. Some stories are better for documentaries than for fiction. I’m exploring all options.

Kohn: Documentary is not a separate form of filmmaking. It’s just another genre. We’re genre directors.

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"Manda Bala," "Billy the Kid," "Taxi to the Darkside" Among Winners of First Cinema Eye Honors

Tuesday night at New York’s IFC Center awards were handed out to the winners of the first ever Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking presented by Indiepix. In case you’re wondering, 'Cinema Eye' is named after the revolutionary group of young filmmakers led by pioneering documentarian Dziga Vertov. The Awards' blue-ribbon selection committee consisted of 12 programmers from North America's top film festivals, co-chaired by A.J. Schnack, Director of Kurt Cobain: About A Son, and Toronto Film Festival Documentary Programmer Thom Powers.

The Manda Bala crew pose for a picture before winning three awards including Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking

Marshall Curry (STREETFIGHT) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature to…Billy The Kid - Jennifer Venditti

Alan Berliner (NOBODY’S BUSINESS, WIDE AWAKE) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in Graphics and Animation to…Chicago 10 - Animation by Curious Pictures

Ross Kaufman (BORN INTO BROTHELS) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography to… Manda Bala - Heloísa Passos

Sam Pollard (JUNGLE FEVER, CLOCKERS, EYES ON THE PRIZE II) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in Editing to Manda Bala – Doug Abel

Robert Drew (PRIMARY) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in Producing to… Ghosts Of Cite Soleil - Seth Kanegis, Tomas Radoor & Mikael Rieks

Alex Gibney (TAXI TO THE DARKSIDE, ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM) presented The Audience Choice Prize to…The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters - Director - Seth Gordon

Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT and THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature to…The Monastery - Mr. Vig & the Nun, Director - Pernille Rose Grønkjær, Producer - Sigrid Dyekjær

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (BROTHER'S KEEPER, PARADISE LOST: THE CHILDHOOD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS, METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in Direction to…Taxi To The Dark Side - Alex Gibney

Barbara Kopple (HARLAN COUNTY USA, AMERICAN DREAM, SHUT UP AND SING) presented the award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking to…
Manda Bala

Stay tuned to The Film Panel Notetaker for notes from the surprising director roundtable discussion that took place at the half-way point during the ceremony.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quit Your Day Job and Vlog: SXSW, 3/8/08 @ 10am.

Everyone and their brother can shoot and upload a bunch of videos onto YouTube, but few have managed to pull off the feat of being able to irk a living from it. Where did they start, and did they start making money?

Each panelist introduced themselves, and as each panelist got their chance to speak, we were shown a video from their vlog.

Lisa Donovan had just started a production company, Zappin productions, with a partner, and were making corporate videos and presentations to pay off bills. Itching to do something more creative, they started creating videos and uploading them to YouTube in June of 2006. Within six months, she had been recruited to make an appearance on MadTV, and her vlogging career took off.

One of the first members accepted into YouTube's Partners Program, Donovan would not recommend starting a vlog on YouTube today. "It's too saturated," she advised the audience.

Zadi Diaz had a successful career in publishing and had done some theater when she broke into vlogging shooting the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, posting her videos to indymedia.org. Soon after, she moved to Los Angeles, and as a means of keeping in touch with family and friends back east, she launched JetSet, which eventually evolved into Epic-Fu.

Once they realized they were getting attention, Diaz and her partner decided to go for broke, and Diaz quit her well-established publishing job. It was a scary decision to make. "This is the future of media. It's now or never," they believed at the time. Recently, they found themselves in Berlin on behalf of the British Council.

Bre Pettis was an art teacher who made a video of people saying "I Love You", with the intention of selling the video to art collectors at a premium price. When that didn't pan out, he posted it on the internet, and along with a video of him touring his apartment, elicited a major internet response. Pettis' "I Love You" video recieved 40,000 hits when it was first posted in 2004.

Make Magazine eventually recruited Pettis to make some vlogs at their convention. "If you want me to come down, you gotta pay me!", he told them. They did. Initially doing most of the work himself, Pettis now has an editor, and does videos for Etsy.com.

Finally, Lindsay Campbell was a struggling actress in New York, temping at a Hedge Fund. When she finished her stint there, she decided to spend an entire month doing auditions with money she had saved, answering cattle call ads on Craigslist, among places. One of these ads was for Wallstrip.com, a financial news show. She was called back, was asked to do a "Man On The Street" interview, and was subsequently hired. Not too long ago, Wallstrip was picked up by CBS Interactive, and Campbell added a new hosting job to her resume, Moblogic.tv, which had literally launched the day before the panel.

All the panelists discussed the stigma that still surrounds entertainment made for the internet. One person told Lisa Donovan, "It's so sad you're going to stay on the web." Lindsay Campbell spoke about how many of her actor peers who want to do TV Work shun the internet, countering, "The internet is TV."

The vloggers offered practical advice for the would-be career vloggers in the audience: "If you want a video job, make a video people will want to see.", "Get a sense of good moments", own your IP, e-mail your videos to your heroes, and get critical feedback. Finally, and most importantly, Diaz said: "Start where you are." Most of the vloggers found their funding through corporate sponsors.

It was the first time all the panelists had met each other. Personally, I found the panel to be very informative, and it gave me ideas, as I am ready to take my own vlogging to the next level.

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Interview: Leah Meyerhoff Brings Retrospective to Boston Underground Film Festival

On Saturday, Brooklyn, NY-based filmmaker Leah Meyerhoff will be heading to Beantown to present a retrospective of her short films at the Brattle Theatre during the Boston Underground Film Festival. I had the great pleasure to hang out with Leah recently during the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas. I first became familiar with Leah’s work at a screening of short films at the Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series last year where I saw the music video she directed, Team Queen. Soon after, I watched her Student Academy-Award nominated short Twitch, which has played in over 200 film festivals around the world and won numerous awards. Last night, I spoke with Leah about her upcoming trip to Boston and what people can expect there, as well as what’s going on with her feature film in development, Unicorns, and other defining moments in her young career.

Leah Meyerhoff

TFPN: Can you give a little preview of what you’ll be talking about at the Boston Underground Film Festival? Have you been there before?

Leah: This will be my third time there. They showed Twitch and Team Queen there before. It’s a fun festival. They’re calling it a retrospective, which is a little strange because I don’t think I’m old enough for a retrospective. Isn’t that what happens after you’re dead? Anyways, I’ll be screening about a dozen of my short films. A lot of films I made in undergrad at Brown University, some experimental films I made when I was in art school in Chicago, and some of my shorts from grad school NYU. Then I have some commercials and music videos I made outside of school. I’ll be talking about my progression as a filmmaker and how I got from being a teenager going off to college to where I am now about to make my first feature film Unicorns. They’re promoting the Q&A to undergrad and high school students in the area. It’s supposed to be somewhat educational, like an artist lecture, and hopefully will inspire aspiring filmmakers to pursue their own path. Since Twitch was so successful on the festival circuit, I also give lectures at various film schools around the country about how to get into film festivals and what to do once you get in. I enjoy educating people on that process, something I didn’t learn in school and had to figure out for myself.

TFPN: What made you decide to become a filmmaker?

Leah: I originally thought I wanted to be a marine biologist, something totally not in the arts at all. Then I went school at Brown and started taking film classes. I started with film theory, kind of more on an intellectual basis and then began taking film production classes at RISD which was this art school nearby. I continued to make sculpture, painting, photography and other kinds of visual art for years and went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a year. It was almost a half-creative and half-practical decision to go into filmmaking, a way of doing something that I love while also having an impact on the world. I enjoy the collaborative aspect of filmmaking rather than being in a tiny studio all day painting by yourself. It also has a potential to reach a wide audience and affect social change on a level that other art forms aren’t capable of. The distribution system can be mind-bogglingly complicated, but it’s also great because if you can tap into that, you have the chance to really change the way people think. That is part of the reason why I’m particularly interested in coming of age stories about teenage girls. That was the age range for me when I was figuring out who I was in the world and what it meant to grow up as a female in this society. I didn’t see myself reflected in the media. To me, all the TV shows and films I saw were not my reality. Now that I’m older, this idea of creating characters that young girls can look up to or can identify with is a powerful idea.

TFPN: Who are some filmmakers that have inspired you?

In general, I’m inspired by artists who show the world how it is, raw, gritty and real. Kimberly Pierce is a great example. I like Lynne Ramsay, Jonathan Caouette, Catherine Breillat, and Gus Van Sant. I like artistically-minded filmmakers who are making stories about real people. And at the same time, having a creative take on it and making the world a more beautiful place.

TFPN: What is Unicorns about? Has it been cast yet and when do you go into production?

Leah: Unicorns is a coming-of-age film about an awkward teenage girl named Davina who escapes to a fantasy world involving unicorns when her first romantic relationship becomes abusive. The film starts on her sixteenth birthday and follows her relationship with an older, punk rock boyfriend. It starts off being fun and exciting, that kind of butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling, and then progressively becomes more and more emotionally and physically abusive. At the same time, her best friend Cassidy has a crush on her and her father is marrying a woman she despises. It’s kind of like an updated Welcome to the Dollhouse. Or another good reference is The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys or Heavenly Creatures. It’s a straight-forward narrative drama, but then there are these fantastical animated elements as well. Were hoping to start shooting this summer. Alison Anders, who is executive producing, is a filmmaker I really admire. Her film Gas Food Lodging was instrumental in my teenage years, so I’m excited to have her attached to the project. We’re hoping to start casting next month with Judy Henderson, who also cast L.I.E. and Twelve and Holding and Eyde Belasco, who cast Half Nelson. She also casts the actors for the Sundance Labs, which the Unicorns screenplay was a finalist for, so that’s a great resource as well.

TFPN: Do you have anyone in mind who you’d like to cast in the role of Davina?

Leah: It’s tough, because I really want the 16-year-old girl to seem like a real 16-year-old girl. There are not a lot of name actors out there who actually look 16. I like Kristen Stewart a lot. I like this girl named Mia Waskilowska who was in a short I saw at Sundance called I Love Sarah Jane. I’m guessing what’s going to happen is the lead girl will be someone we discover who is authentic and real. For the lead boy, it might be more of a name actor, along the lines of Emile Hirsch or Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Really I just want to cast whoever is most right for the part. Whoever feels the most real. I am not interested in making the next Clueless or Mean Girls. It’s more My So Called Life than 90210, you know? There are not a lot of films about teenage girls to begin with. There are a lot of coming-of-age films about boys, but there are not a lot of female stories out there. And of the ones that are, they’re usually so unlike any reality that I experienced. Which is what inspires me to make this film. To dig beneath the glossy surface and scratch at the heart of the matter. The brutal realities of adolescence. This is why I spend so much time on casting. If I can cast someone compelling and authentic, then most of my job as a director is already done.

TFPN: What were some of your favorite films you saw and panel discussions you attended at SXSW?

Leah: My favorite film was a documentary called Beautiful Losers, which was about street artists like Shepard Fairey and Harmony Korine. It was beautifully shot. I also liked Lynn Shelton’s film My Effortless Brilliance. And it was fun to see Bi the Way in a theater with a lively audience. Honestly, I came away from that festival wishing I had seen more narrative films. At one point, in the middle of a screening, my friend turned to me and said I just really want to see a scripted film. Kimberly Pierce has been giving me advice on my film, so I really wanted to see Stop-Loss but it played the day after I left. I also went to a lot of panels. The writing panel was useful to me, with Amy Dotson and Scott Macaulay. Also the Fact or Fiction one was interesting. I went to part of the one the Four Eyed Monsters kids were on about digital distribution. I’ve spoken on a lot of panels myself so it’s always interesting to be on the other side. In general, festival panels become somewhat redundant, but at SXSW there were so many incredible people smashed together in this small venue that even if you came in part way though you could pick some stuff up and move on to the next. That’s kind of what I did.

TFPN: What would you say are some of the best festivals you’ve ever been to with the best panels?

Leah: This year, I actually found the panels at Sundance and Slamdance to be really interesting, but SXSW is definitely up there in terms of good panels. They’re well moderated, have interesting guests, and are short and to the point. I tend to judge festivals on more of a filmmaker criterion. I like smaller festivals that take good care of the filmmakers and have really good programming and fun parties. I really like Woodstock, Milan (in Italy), and Avignon (in France). I used to like Brooklyn Underground, which doesn’t exist anymore. I also really like the Sarasota Film Festival as a filmmaker and an audience member. It’s a really well-run festival. And there’s another festival a lot of people haven’t heard of called Cucalorus in North Carolina that I would put on my top 10 list of all time. They make a point to bring all the filmmakers out, no matter where you’re from. You stay with a volunteer and they give you a bicycle to ride around in this tiny little town. The audience is fantastic and the theaters are beautiful and all the films are great. I also like the Newport International Film Festival in Rhode Island. They have parties in mansions with lobsters. It’s fancy but it’s also down to earth at the same time. I was there the year that they were missing the print for the closing night film and a helicopter landed in the middle of town to deliver it, and because of it, they ended up pushing my screening block. To make up for it, they gave us all a free sailboat ride the next day. I don’t like Sundance and Cannes and the larger festivals as much, especially as a short filmmaker because you can get lost in the mix, but Venice is a really great one. Actually I think Venice has the best Q&As I’ve ever seen where it becomes a real community discussion. Plus, it’s in Italy, which is always nice.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

"The Lililput" Raises $10,000 On IndieGoGo.com

As previously noted at last week's Alternative Models of Distribution panel at the Canadian Consulate, the film The Lilliput has raised approximately $10,000 through IndieGoGo.com.

Here's the official IndieGoGo.com announcement:

Berkeley, California, March 5, 2008—IndieGoGo, the online social marketplace that connects filmmakers and fans to make more independent film happen announced today that Minna Packer (BACK TO GOMBIN) raised $10,000 to shoot a “sneak peek” of her new narrative film THE LILLIPUT. This is the first project to successfully reach its fundraising goals on IndieGoGo. The film chronicles the true story of Umchzek Kerber, a Jewish dwarf and friend of the Packer family, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in garbage cans in a Warsaw railway station.

In IndieGoGo’s first six weeks, it has already become home for 120 projects and $16,000 in fan contributions. Founded on the principles of opportunity, transparency, choice, and action, IndieGoGo addresses fundraising challenges by providing filmmakers an open platform to pitch their projects to the world while giving fans a vehicle to experience and influence the once inaccessible world of filmmaking.

“Lilliput’s success is a perfect example of our motto, DIWO, “Do It With Others”, said Slava Rubin, IndieGoGo Founder and Chief of Strategy and Marketing. “Minna did everything right: She posted her project, built her audience with our promotional tools, created unique contributor VIP perks and got the word out. There is clearly an audience that’s wants to see THE LILLIPUT get made and we are very excited Minna was able to make that connection so quickly.”

THE LILLIPUT will be filmed in Poland in collaboration with the National Film School in Lodz and the University of Lodz. Packer, who is the child of Holocaust survivors herself, was inspired to tell Umchzek Kerber’s story to ensure the strength of her family friend is never forgotten.

“IndieGoGo made the shoot for our sneak peek a reality. Many people would not have heard of our film and now we have new fans we never thought we would reach,” said Minna Packer, Director, THE LILLIPUT. “Our project is being shot in Poland, the production team is in the US, our actors and fans are from around the world. Now everyone has one home on IndieGoGo.”

IndieGoGo has continued to add resources for its filmmakers through its partnership network. A recent partnership includes TubeMogul. The organizations will collaborate to provide IndieGoGo filmmakers a universal upload whereby TubeMogul deploys videos to as many of the top video sharing sites the producer chooses. This is replete with integrated analytics and single source metrics on “where, when, and how often” the videos are viewed. Other partners include IFP, From Here to Awesome, and the Workbook Project. Each partnership is designed to provide filmmakers with the widest array of tools and resources needed to support their DIWO filmmaking.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

IFP - Alternative Models of Distribution - March 14, 2008

On Friday, IFP organized an event in conjunction with the Consulate General of Canada in New York for Canadian producers and directors whose work is screening at MoMA as part of their Canadian Front series. I attended a panel discussion on Alternative Models of Distribution during this event. Below are my notes. Once again, Jason Guerrasio proved to be a stalwart moderator asking very on-topic questions, and getting some pretty meaty answers from the panelists. This was a very well programmed panel.

IFP’s US Industry Immersion
Consulate General of Canada in New York
Alternative Models of Distribution
March 14, 2008

(L to R: Jason Guerrasio, Arianna Bocco, Tom Quinn, Slava Rubin and Lance Weiler)

Jason Guerrasio, Managing Editor, Filmmaker Magazine

Arianna Bocco – Vice President, Acquisitions and Productions, IFC Entertainment
Tom Quinn – Senior Vice President, Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing
Slava Rubin – Founder & Chief of Strategy and Marketing, IndieGoGo.com
Lance Weiler – Partner, Seize the Media & Co-Founder, From Here to Awesome

Opening Remarks

John McNab (Deputy Consul General, Consulate General of Canada in New York):
This was the first occasion I had to participate in this, the fifth anniversary of coming together of the Canadian film community. It’s maturing into quite an event. Last night at MoMA, I saw Poor Boy’s Game. It was an edgy film. There was a discussion after with Canadians and Americans talking about distribution and financing.

Michelle Byrd (Executive Director, IFP):
The program is based on the relationship and success of the International Alliance, a new IFP program. Last week, we did a program with Unifrance. In November, we’ll do one with the Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival. We feel New York City is the capital of independent film. Today’s event was inspired by four years of working with the Consulate General of Canada.

Susan Boehm (Managing Director, International Programs, IFP):
Poor Boys Game participated in IFP’s No Borders program in 2004. Those participating in today’s event will become digital members of IFP.

The Discussion

Before asking questions to the panel, Guerrasio said that the film The Lilliput, which is featured on IndieGoGo.com (founded by panelist Slava Rubin) has raised approximately $10,000 through IndieGoGo.

Guerrasio: Are traditional models of distribution going to the wayside?

Bocco: I look at it on a sliding scale. I don’t think it’s dead, but crippled severely. I don’t think distribution can survive on just traditional models. There’s more films out there, more competition for screens and rising costs.

Quinn: I feel crippled, handicapped and screwed. For the last eight years of theatrical distribution, there are at least twice as many prints. Ticket prices have raised approximately 30%. The price to produce a movie has raised approx. 40%. The million dollar theatrical gross was attainable three to four years ago, and now is only attainable to about $300K-$400K.

Rubin: When does distribution really start? Do you think about strategy from the start of making your film? Is online distribution an option? The challenge is the capacity of distribution and the cost to make film is still a hurdle. The risk is slowly coming out of that process. What medium do you want to have your film distributed? Folks coming to IndieGoGo.com are not taking for granted their film has to get theatrical distribution.

Guerrasio: How do you get your films out there?

Weiler: The Democratization of tools has created a surplus of films. When I released my film on DVD, it performed well at retail stores like Best Buy, but there is shrinking retail space. The excitement is with the direct connection to your audience. I start early in the process. I got my audience to help me to amplify my message. You see this mostly in the music industry, ie. artists trying to get control of their work such as Radiohead.

Guerrasio: Magnolia Pictures and IFC Films are successfully using the day-and-date model. How has the model worked for you?

Quinn: It always comes back to the content. Unless it’s tailored for a particular release, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Look at the figures and numbers of what day-and-date are doing. Magnolia is pushing 40 million households on VOD. The benefit is we also own Landmark Theatres, a chain dedicated to specialized film in the top 21 markets. This enables us to flex our muscles in the day-and-date model. Our showing of the Oscar short films was very successful surpassing $500K. It was simultaneously released on iTunes. Theatrical money always jumps from there.

Bocco: The key is prints & advertising (P&A). The whole notion of the amount of money spent on traditional distribution has really changed. IFC releases about two films per month or 24 films per year. You have to be conscious of P&A spent. Our day-and-date model (IFC FirstTake) has worked incredibly well. It has evolved. We release films theatrically and on VOD simultaneously, ie. Paranoid Park. There’s certain reciprocity with theatrical releases and VOD. It actually helps your box office. Word of mouth really spreads. With 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, we projected low VOD numbers, but probably quadrupled our expectations. It’s also about to go to $1M at the box office.

Quinn: It’s an ever evolving thing as far as content goes.

Guerrasio: Is the FirstTake model being used for every IFC film now?

Bocco: Yes. We’re now in 50 million homes for VOD. We just made a deal with Blockbuster. It’s been really successful. Why go backwards to a traditional model? We have a lot of these ‘Mumblecore’ movies. They embrace this model. I see a generational difference in filmmakers. Even someone like Gus Van Sant is all for it.

Rubin: Robert Greenwald’s Iraq for Sale was a successful and controversial film. My point is that he needed to raise approximate $750K, but could only get about $350K. He sent an email to people who saw his other films and raised around $250K from them. He already had an embedded audience. Instead of Do-It-Yourself (DIY), we call it Do It With Others. How do you create a multi-platform universe where your project can exist?

Weiler: For Head Trauma, I had a VOD release through Warner Bros. I knew they wouldn’t promote the movie, so I created an alternative reality game (ARG). The storyline ran in tandem with Head Trauma called Hope is Missing. I released it through a variety of outlets. I saw 2.5 million people play the game spending many hours with it. I also did guerilla drive-in screenings. People found out about them through the game. I also used this to promote the DVD release. Day-and-date sees consumers driving the way the market is going. The game experience created this whole world. A perfect example is World Without Oil where uses created content. It’s a form that’s emerging and has a lot of possibilities. If it’s compelling, people will engage in it. They’re interested in something that’s easily accessible.

Guerrasio: Do filmmaker realize that their films may not play theatrically?

Rubin: The challenge is that there is an emotional tie being in a theater. The data proves that theatrical distribution may not be as successful on its own. The concept of not getting theatrical distribution is okay. There’s more of a mind shift of what is acceptable.

Guerrasio: Where are we with watching films online? Is this the next step?

Weiler: There are a number of issues starting with the ease for the audience to be able to view films online. There’s also politics and policy, ie. bandwidth allocation. Another is traditional windows of release and SAG-related contracts that go with that. But there are a lot of people stepping into this space to aggregate it. BestBuy and iTunes don’t want thousands of filmmakers knocking on their doors. There’s not a lot of foot traffic outside of something like iTunes. Jaman, for example, only gives creators 30% of the profits, while they take 70%. Then there are some aggregators that make a service deal taking only 20% and giving the filmmaker 80%. Also issues with piracy. Day-and-date allows you to get it anyway you want it.

Guerrasio: Will there be web-based divisions in your companies?

Bocco: Not in the near future. There are so many platforms. I agree with everything Lance said. It all comes down to technology and the ease of consumers. The ability to expand in all these other platforms is great. Day-and-date gives films an opportunity to have lives they wouldn’t have had before.

Quinn: Everyone said TV was going to kill film and that video was going to kill TV. Essentially, it created content. I started meeting people in the past two years that don’t watch movies anymore. There’s still a business that’s based on theatrical models. Embrace the Democratization of distribution. My background is live theater. It’s better than anything else out there. There’s no better way to see a movie than at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. I do not think there are certain things that will go away completely.

Bocco: As a business, my company is part of a larger corporation. The challenge is to find ways to buy these films. We stopped producing films. Our goal is to continue to bring these movies to life, but we have to make money.

Quinn: I’m wrestling with the question, has the Democratization of film production and equity dramatically improved the quality of content? No. The percentage of films I’m excited about is less and less.

Bocco: I don’t think it’s changed. Perceptions and tastes have changed, but not the quality.

Audience Q&A:

Q: What’s the main demographic for customers at Alamo Drafthouse?

Quinn: College students under 30. I feel that consumers are very lazy. Familiarity of use is the key. I know exactly what I want to order and what’s going to be in the pre-show. IFC is another example that has a built-in audience that wants a certain kind of movie. I want there to be an Alamo Drafthouse in New York City, but not sure you’d get the same kind of service here that you’d get in Austin. The Alamo owner has gone way out of his way to trump mall movie theaters. They’ve figured out a way to serve food without interrupting the movie.

Q: Do you think producers will now be also producing games and events or will they look for people to produce these for them?

Weiler: It will become a natural extension of the production and distribution. Right now, everything is so fragmented and new. Distributors will always have some role, but more people are realizing they can go directly to their own audience. I think it starts at the beginning.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cinema Eye Honors Presenters Announced

Indiepix announced today the lineup of presenters for the Cinema Eye Honors taking place Tuesday night at New York's IFC Center.

The full list of awards and presenters follows:

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature – Marshall Curry (STREETFIGHT)

Outstanding Achievement in Graphics and Animation – Alan Berliner (NOBODY’S BUSINESS, WIDE AWAKE)

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography – Ross Kaufman (BORN INTO BROTHELS)

Outstanding Achievement in Editing – Sam Pollard (JUNGLE FEVER, CLOCKERS, EYES ON THE PRIZE II)

Outstanding Achievement in Production – Robert Drew (PRIMARY)


Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature – Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT and THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK)


Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking – Barbara Kopple (HARLAN COUNTY USA, AMERICAN DREAM, SHUT UP AND SING)

The Film Panel Notetaker will be at the Cinema Eye Honors covering the night's events. Stay tuned!

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SXSW- A Conversation with Helen Hunt - March 9, 2008

SXSW Film Conference & Festival
A Conversation with Helen Hunt
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Austin Convention Center – Room 16AB – 3pm

Christy Lemire moderates a discussion with Helen Hunt at SXSW.

Christy Lemire - Movie Critic, Associated Press

Helen Hunt – Director/Writer/Actress - Then She Found Me

Lemire: What’s it been like screening Then She Found Me?

Hunt: The fun part is to have other filmmakers see it.

Lemire: Your film has been 10 years in the making. What made you decide to direct the film?

Hunt: I wanted to wait to find the right story and to create a character that was me. It would take too much time to tell other directors what to do.

Lemire: How did you know you could direct?

Hunt: I didn’t know. I worked with a lot of different directors.

Lemire: Who influenced you?

Hunt: Jim Brooks. He holds a place in my psyche about movies that appeal to me. This movie is hopefully a funny movie about betrayal. I learned from Brooks that you have to have that one magic sentence. It took me at least a year to get to that sentence. It was a painful topic. Other directors who shall remain nameless have shot down the camera operator’s opinions on a film set, for example. I wanted to be brave enough to hear other people’s ideas. I was very alone. The Coen Brothers have each other. I had just me. I wanted my character and the audience to feel betrayed over and over again. The color of Bette Midler’s suit spoke to the one sentence about betrayal. How do I get all the fun out of Bette, but trick the audience? I hired good actors. I looked at The Rose and her broader work.

Lemire: Why did you cast Salman Rushdie as the gynecologist?

Hunt: It was to introduce the notion they weren’t praying to any particular G-d. I hired someone to play the doctor who is Indian. I auditioned actors and doctors, then Rushdie wanted to read the part.

Lemire: How does being a mom yourself resonate with you?

Hunt: The movie couldn’t have existed without my being a mother. You need the magic sentence of the movie and what the protagonist wants: a baby. It’s filled with potency.

Lemire: What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the offset?

Hunt: Every member of the crew matters. Make sure you get along with them and they give a shit. Ask them all to take it personally. It’s the last 10 years of my life.

Lemire: Does it help coming from acting as a director?

Hunt: I suggest any potential filmmaker take an acting class. It’s a definable learnable skill.

Lemire: Are women directors making strides?

Hunt: Yeah, the election. I don’t understand why it’s so disproportionate. One of my biggest strengths was I knew the movie well enough. I just wanted to get my movie made. My pride took a back seat. If I had been asked to take four great parts this past year, I wouldn’t have been able to make this movie. It’s better for having been smaller.

Lemire: Would you do it again?

Hunt: I wrote a script based on original material that’s similar in tone. It’s a comedy about some things that are funny and some things that are not so funny.

Audience Q&A:

Q: When you go ‘No’s,’ what kind were they?

Hunt: Every kind. Bette & I – No. Screenplay – No. People felt it fell in between in terms of its size. In the end, I just backed into the budget. It was very small.

Q: What was one of the main issues you had with music licensing?

Hunt: I didn’t have any. Had a friend who is a composer, but lost him, then found Dan Mansfield to do the music. He was a child prodigy. I wanted an acoustic score to drive the movie. Dan used my friend’s guitar. There was one cello player also we hired in New York.

Q: Did winning an Oscar help you?

Hunt: It probably helped a little, but I didn’t get a “yes” till many years later.

Q: How much trouble was it to get distribution?

Hunt: I assumed I wouldn’t, but I was invited to show it at Toronto. Here at SXSW, we have a cool little indie distributor called ThinkFilm.

Q: What’s the overall career message you learned?

Hunt: If you think you can write something, write something.

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